Benjamin O. Davis Jr., First Black General in Air Force
Benjamin O. Davis Jr., 89, a pioneering military officer who was the leader of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and the first African American to become a General in the Air Force, died July 4, 2002, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He had Alzheimer’s disease.
In a career that began in the days of segregation, General Davis, who was born in Washington and lived here for much of his life, compiled a long history of achievements and accomplishments. His combat record and that of the unit he led have been credited with playing a major role in prompting the integration of the armed services after World War II.
In 1970, after retiring from the Air Force, he supervised the federal sky marshal program that was designed to quell a rash of airliner hijackings. In 1971, he was named an assistant secretary of transportation. At the time he left the Air Force as a Lieutenant General, wearing three stars, he was the senior black officer in the armed forces. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded General Davis his fourth star, advancing him to full general. “General Davis is here today as living proof that a person can overcome adversity and discrimination, achieve great things, turn skeptics into believers; and through example and perseverance, one person can bring truly extraordinary change,” Clinton said.
As the World War II commander of the 332nd Fighter Group, General Davis and his pilots escorted bombers on 200 air combat missions over Europe, flying into the teeth of some of the Nazi Luftwaffe’s most tenacious defenses. It was one of the 332nd’s proudest achievements that not one of the bombers it protected was lost to an enemy fighter.
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